Film, Reviews

FILM REVIEW: CREED

The best Rocky film since Rocky.

Creed05188.dngBack in 1976, a struggling actor named Sylvester Stallone wrote and starred in a film about a struggling boxer named Rocky Balboa, and thus a legend was born. Fast forward 40 years and it is time to pass the mantle along with Creed, a sequel/spin-off which brings the Rocky legacy to a new generation. It was a risky move – Stallone brought the franchise to a suitable conclusion a decade ago with a sixth film, Rocky Balboa (2006) after increasingly diminishing returns – but Creed strikes the perfect balance between old and new.

Co-written and directed by Ryan Coogler, who’s debut Fruitvale Station (2013) won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and starring rising star Michael B Jordan (who also led Fruitvale Station) as Adonis Creed, the illegitimate son of late Heavyweight Champion Apollo. Adonis ‘Donny’ is raised by Apollo’s widow (Phylicia Rashad) in LA but makes his way to Philadelphia to pursue boxing and ask Rocky to be his trainer. Donny must then learn to deal with the legacy of his name as he takes on current Heavyweight Champion Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew – a real-life boxer) in a once in a lifetime showdown.

Creed10521.dngThe plot could have been generic, but Coogler and Aaron Covington have written the characters with obvious love for the franchise, but also a desire to take things in a new direction. The Rocky we see in this film is not the legend of the past – his beloved wife and best friend have both passed away, he is all but estranged from his son, his own health is flailing and he has turned his back on boxing. Whilst Donny is at the centre, the films theme of living with a name also branches out to the Italian Stallion, who is human and vulnerable. With such an action-orientated career, it is easy to forget that Stallone can act, but Coogler has drawn out the best from the actor, who delivers a Golden Globe winning performance that packs a real emotional punch.

Michael B Jordan also looks and acts the part as Donny, a young man struggling to come out from under the shadow of a father he never knew. Whilst it would be a stretch to say that Donny has a particularly memorable personality, Jordan hits all the right notes in terms of the characters anger and insecurities. The father-son bond that emerges between Balboa and Creed is the beating heart of the entire film, and it likely to bring a lump to the throat of even the franchises toughest fans.

Creed29156.dngAnother thing Coogler has got resoundingly right is Bianca (Tessa Thompson), Donny’s neighbor and eventual girlfriend. Bianca, a singer with progressive hearing loss, is a character in her own right and has dreams and ambitions just as strong and important as Donny’s, something which is extremely rare to see in a sports/boxing movie, where women are generally just one-note love interests (see Rachel McAdam’s character in last years Southpaw for a recent example). Thompson is brilliant as the character, finding and settling on the area where strength and vulnerability meet.

Whilst Creed is a film that thrives on its characters, they are not the only strong element. All the ingredients for a classic Rocky film are present, from a great score from Fruitvale Station’s composer Ludwig Goransson, who has channeled 1970s influences and Bill Conti’s iconic original score to create something new, to not one but multiple training montages (the last of which is literally breathtaking). We also get to see those ‘Rocky’ steps as a final reminder that this is a film that knows and loves its roots.

CRD207_000035.tifThe visuals are also great, particularly the fight scenes. One early fight is filmed in one continuous take, whilst the camera is rarely static. The obligatory final fight is an exhilarating watch that’ll have you on the edge of your seat throughout, and it is clear why boxing is regarded as one of the most cinematic sports, you feel every blow and the Coogler mixes intense long takes with sharp hits to create something that is a real experience to watch.

Creed is not a film to be missed – be you a steadfast and loyal fan of the franchise or a newcomer, it is everything that a boxing film should be and more, with fully realised characters, intense action and just the right amount of nostalgia, Coogler has delivered a knockout.

 

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Film, List, Opinion

JANUARY 2016 IN FILM 

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Happy new year! 2016 is finally upon us, and it promises to be one of the biggest years in cinema yet. January is an exciting month, with the UK finally getting to see some of the major oscar contenders that have been out in the US for months. Here is the lowdown of what will be coming to screens this month…

The Danish Girl:

the-danish-girl-posterOut: January 1st 2016

Directed: Tom Hooper

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Wishaw

What’s it about?: Tells the story of the marriage of Gerda and Einar Wegener, the latter of who became one of the first gender reassignment patients in 1920’s Copenhagen. The film is based on the book by David Ebershoff, a fictionalised account of the real life couple.

Will it be good?: In an oscar-baiting way, undoubtedly. Whilst The Danish Girl is a film that has been trying to get made for over a decade, it has been released in the midst of the biggest ever dialogue about trans issues, and is sure to make good of its two leads.

Vikander is an up and coming star who well and truly broke out into mainstream consciousness last year with Ex-Machina and The Man from U.N.C.L.E, whilst Redmayne scooped an oscar for his transformative performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything – a film which also, incidentaly, portrays a marriage in unusual circumstances.

British director Hooper won the Best Director oscar back in 2010 for The King’s Speech, and his latest film is sure to tick a lot of the boxes that the Academy look for, so The Danish Girl is not to be missed if you want to know what everyone’s talking about come February.

Joy:

Joy-PosterOut: January 1st 2016

Directed: David O Russell

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper

What’s it about?: Loosly based on the true story of Joy Mangano, the inventor of the Miracle Mop. The film tells the story of her rise to prominence and as a matriarch of her family.

Will it be good?: Russell must know that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, because he has reunited his triangle of talent for the third time with Joy, and there is no denying that its a talented trio. Lawrence is arguably one of the biggest names in Hollywood at the moment, and she is riding high on the conclusion of the much loved Hunger Games series at the end of last year, whilst DeNiro is a living legend, and no amount of questionable roles (more on that later) will change that. Cooper has also proved his worth in recent years, moving further away from romcoms and comedies to take on some really interesting roles – whatever your view is on American Sniper (2014), you can’t deny his ability.

Russell has also proved himself a skilled filmaker, particularly with a string of generally well recieved releases since 2010’s The Fighter, but there is still the feeling that his work has a hollow quality that is difficult to put into words. American Hustle (2014) for example, was a great and enjoyable film on first viewing, but it feels empty upon repeated watches, holding it back from gaining any lasting status. That said, Joy will be hard to ignore this month, and is sure to be worth seeing based on Lawrence alone.

The Hateful Eight:

the-hateful-eightOut: January 8th 2016

Directed: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh

What’s it about?: A snowstorm in the heart of a Wyoming Winter leaves eight individuals taking refuge at Minnie’s haberdashy in post-civil war USA.

Will it be good?: Almost certainly. Tarantino fans will be falling over themselves to see the latest from the director, which is set in the same universe as 2012’s Django Unchained. It looked like the film may never see the light of day when the director shelved it following a script leak in early 2014, but its finally here and it is sure to be glorious.

Tarantino has cited The Thing (1982) and Resevoir Dogs (1992) as the two main influences on the film, and this fact alone is enough to send excitement levels into overdrive. The idea of eight shady people being cooped up together in a tavern is an interesting premise that could go in any direction, and The Hateful Eight should be one everyone’s must-see list this month.

Creed:

creedpostersmallOut: January 15th 2016

Directed: Ryan Coogler

Starring: Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone

What’s it about?: AKA Rocky VII – Former heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa becomes mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his former rival and late friend, Apollo Creed.

Will it be good?: When Creed was first announced there was a collective sigh from anyone who had ever seen a Rocky movie – what were they thinking? Stallone had managed to bring the series back and end it on a high in 2006 with Rocky Balboa, but in the process he had provided an appropriate end for the chracter, why ruin that? But against the odds the film has actually been very well recievec in the states, moving the story along by introducing Creed and placing Stallone in the mentor role.

It is the first Rocky film not to be written by Stallone, and also the first where Rocky doesn’t fight. This allows Rocky Balboa to maintain its definitive end of an era vibe whilst also allowing the series to continue in a way that doesn’t feel increasingly ridiculous. The up and coming Jordan also seems like the perfect candidate to play Creed, and the film is a must-see out of curiousity if nothing else.

The Revenant: 

revenant-leoOut: January 15th 2016

Directed: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domnhall Gleeson

What’s it about?: Set in the 1820s. the film tells the story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) – a frontierman who survives being mauled by a bear and sets out on a quest for revenge against his confidant John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).

Will it be good?: It is set to be a technical marvel above all else, and it is looking like it will cement Gonzalez Inarritu as one of the most inventive filmakers working today. The follow up to Birdman, which won big at the 2014 oscars, the film had a well-documented troubled production, largely due to the fact that it was filmed on location and using only natural light, meaning that only a few hours could be filmed per day.

The film will live or die by DiCaprio, who gave everything to the role and said it was one of the toughest of his career. Sure, this opens him up to a lot of jokes about how far he is willing to go to try and finally bag an oscar (he ate a raw bison’s liver, in spite of being vegetarian), but it also proves why he is one of the best in the business. He turned down Steve Jobs (2015) for this, and it looks like it has paid off. The film has already been recieving rave reviews and is another strong oscar contender, as well as the type of film that was painstakingly designed to be appreciated on the big screen, so make sure you don’t miss it in cinemas.

Room:

Room_PosterOut: January 15th 2016

Directed: Lenny Abrahamson

Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay

What’s it about?: A mother and her five year old son live out their lives in a 10 by 10 feet room, where the mother works hard to keep her sons imagination alive before they decide to try and break out into the real world.

Will it be good?: It has been getting excellent write-ups, with Larson’s central performance gaining the majority of the praise. It is an interesting concept, based on Emma Donoghue’s novel, which she wrote after hearing about the5 year old Felix in the Fritzl case. A film of this sort can only work if the performances are good, and all the indacators are pointing towards this being the case, with an oscar nomination even being mentioned for Larson. Anyone interested in the awards race will have to add this to the already crowded must-watch list.

The Big Short:

tbs_1-sht_teaserOut: January 22nd 2016

Directed: Adam McKay

Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt

What’s it about?: Tells three seperate tales about the mid 2000s mortgage housing crisis in the USA.

Will it be good?: Bar seeing the trailer, I haven’t heard a lot about this film, but I am banking on it being good based on the stellar cast. McKay is much better known for his comedy work, and this is the first film of his not to feature Will Ferrell, but the trailer looked like the film had a comedy-drama vibe that should suit the director well.

Carrell proved he can do dramatic well with Foxcatcher (2015), and his comedy talent is untouchable, so he seems like a perfect fit for the film, whilst it is great to see Gosling back on screen following his break from acting since 2013. Bale and Pitt are also industry stalwarts, and bringing the four talents together has the potential for brilliant storytelling – it all hangs on McKay’s ability to maintain the more dramatic elements.

Our Brand is in Crisis:

Our-Brand-Is-Crisis-posterOut: January 22nd 2016

Directed: David Gordon Green

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie

What’s it about?: Based on the documentary of the same name (available on Netflix), the film depicts a Bolivian politician who hires an American political analyst in a bid to win the 2002 election.

Will it be good?: The film, produced by Bullock and George Clooney, has every chance of being good, yet for some reason I’m not sold. It might be the poster, which makes it look like a generic thriller starring Liam Neeson. It might also be the fact that it is basically just remaking a documentary that I could easily watch on Netflix from the comfort of my own bed.

That said, Bullock, Thornton and recent Avengers addition Mackie are all strong performers, and it isn’t fair to write a film off totally because of poor marketing, so Our Brand is in Crisis could turn out to be that excellent film that I didn’t bother to see.

Ride Along 2:

file_612412_ride-along-2-poster-640x1013Out: January 22nd 2016

Directed: Tim Story

Starring: Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, Olivia Munn

What’s it about?: Ben’s (Kevin Hart) wedding is looming, and he accompanies his soon to be brother in law James (Ice Cube) to Miami to bring down a drug dealer.

Will it be good?: Granted I have never seen the first Ride Along (2014), but hopes aren’t particularly high for this one. With Straight Outta Compton (2015) coming out last year, it has reminded anyone who may have forgotten of the greatness of N.W.A, which just makes it seem even stranger that Ice Cube – the man responsible for Fuck Tha Police – is playing a police officer. There isn’t anything wrong with it per se, it’s just weird. Hart on the other hand is funny, but he has also appeared in a fair few lacklustre comedies, and I’m willing to bet that is the category Ride Along 2 will fall into.

The 33:

the33_1sht_main_dom_2764x4096Out: January 29th 2016

Directed: Patricia Riggan

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro

What’s it about?: Based on the 2010 incident which saw 33 Chilean miners being trapped underground for 69 days. The film is based on the official account of events as depicted in the book Deep Down Dark.

Will it be good?: If handled right, yes. Films of this sort can be extremely effective, but the impact is based on the director’s ability to make the audience experience the trapped feeling of the characters. Mexican director Riggan doesn’t have a gigantic backlog to go from, and other work includes TV Movie Lemonade Mouth (2012) which was shown on the Disney Channel, so she clearly doesn’t have experience in this genre. That doesn’t mean it should be written off – it is an intriguing incident and if handled well it will be an affecting watch. So far it has recieved mixed reviews from critics, some of whom have noted that it relies too heavily on formula. It is hard to gage, but the film probably won’t take precedence in my choices for the month.

Dirty Grandpa: 

dirty-grandpa-posterOut: January 29th 2016

Directed: Dan Mazer

Starring: Robert DeNiro, Zac Efron, Audrey Plaza

What’s it about?: A young, engaged lawyer is tricked into attending Spring Break with his Grandfather.

Will it be good?: Remember earlier when I said nothing could tarnish DeNiro’s legacy? This is what I was talking about. Over the last decade or so, it seems a bit like he has thrown caution to the wind and decided to have some fun (or the more cynical and probably more realistic view is that he has decided to make some real money), and that has led to some…questionable choices. Dirty Grandpa, like a lot of the comedies DeNiro has put his name on in recent years, is the sort of film that looks like it would have been a lot of fun to make, and it is sure to be enjoyed by any number of teenage boys, but that’s about it really. See it at the weekend if you’re looking for some gross out, easy viewing.

Spotlight:

2B89064B00000578-0-image-a-25_1440115471750Out: January 29th 2016

Directed: Tom McCarthy

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams

What’s it about?: The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered child molestation allegations within the Catholic Church.

Will it be good?: Without a shadow of a doubt. The filmm has already recieved critical acclaim in the states, and it looks set to repeat the feat over here. Made with co-operation from the Boston Globe and looking like it is going to have a very All The President’s Men (1976) feel to it, this is one of the films I have been willing to appear in UK cinemas ever since I first heard about it months ago. As a journalism student myself, it is a subject that I find fascinating, as will many others.

My own personal excitment aside, there is a lot to look forward to here, most notably an excellent cast. Keaton, Ruffalo and McAdams are all excellent in their own right, and the ensemble is sure to be something special. Spotlight looks set for awards glory and is THE must-see film of the month.

Youth: 

youth-posterOut: January 29th 2016

Directed: Paolo Sorrentino

Starring: Michael Caine, Henry Keitel, Jane Fonda

What’s it about?: Fred (Michael Caine) is a retired composer and Mick (Harvey Keitel) a film director are old friends staying at a hotel in the Alps when Fred gets a request to compose for Prince Phillip.

Will it be good?: In a word, yes. Caine is another living legend, and Sorrentino wrote the film with him in mind as a main character, so it is sure to be a treat. Going by the trailer it looks like an understated, visually striking film which could be some of Caine and Keitel’s best work in years, whilst it will be great to see Fonda back onscreen. That said, with such a jam-packed month it might be hard to fit it in!

As you can see, it’s a jam packed month of awards contenders, and it could prove difficult to fit them all in, but the five films I will be making sure to see are:

  • Spotlight
  • The Hateful Eight
  • The Revenant
  • Creed
  • The Danish Girl

(I will probably be checking out Joy, Youth and The Big Short for good measure)

Which films are you looking forward to seeing this month? Let me know in the comments section!

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